Tuesday, January 18, 2011

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

'He knew that, while he was away, women friends of Laura's and their children had come and gone continually, for a few weeks, three months, a year or so.  They had eaten light snacks off trays, used the telephone practically without paying for it, shared the work, and night and day filled the air with the dull, frivolous yatter which passes for female conversation.'

Stephen Marshall has returned home after the war to discover that his wife, Laura, has let things slide a bit.  And really, how is a middle-class household to run smoothly when your staff has up and left to support the war effort?  His domain is not the only thing that has lost its shine, his wife seems to have aged while he was away.  Her hair has begun to go grey.

In a movie, the happy reunion of a family after years of separation would be dramatic and sweeping.  The reality was quite different in many cases and the restoring of social order wasn't always easy.  The independence experienced by Laura dissolves away when she is chided by her husband for letting things go.  At the same time, her mother, Mrs Herriot, states that her daughter is working too hard.  A situation brought on my Laura's foolhardy decision to marry a man less wealthy than hoped for.  Thoughts of wanting more for herself are pushed aside for errands and social calls, this is Laura fulfilling her duty just as Stephen has fulfilled his in the war.

While it would be easy to focus on the friction, Panter-Downes writes lyrically about flowers and bees in the neglected garden, cakes and biscuits in the pantry and the green English countryside.  Ten year-old, Victoria, stuffing herself with delicious home-cooked fare at her friend's house is heartwarming and of course, those cups of tea, wonderful.  The fertility of the women in the village is grounds for speculation whether the men are home or away.

What was, what is and what may be are ruminated over and dreamt about.  At the end of this one fine day, Stephen and Laura separately come to a conclusion about how they will embrace tomorrow.  In what I know is an unpopular opinion, I can't say that I really cared.  The writing is sublime, the characters very real...I just couldn't resist wanting to shake them.


  1. Oh dear, I thought you'd love this, Darlene. There's a Persephone book on the same theme of running a house during the war - House-Bound by Winifred Peck - but the Mollie Panter-Downes is so much better written.

  2. Hmm - I think I enjoyed the writing so much that I didn't notice so much about the characters. HAve you read her shorttime stories, published by Persephone?

  3. mary, If I were in London we could have tea and a proper chat! My distaste for Stephen began early with his 'I'm back and things are going to change' stance. I understand social mores and the times but this coupling didn't sit well with me. At the risk of breaking into a rant I will leave things there as this is a lovely book in so many other regards. Very curious about House-Bound now!

    verity, If this were written in exactly the same way with Laura anticipating Stephen's return then it would have been perfect for me. The issues were all mine but that is what makes for interesting discussion. And I LOVED the short stories!

  4. Oh Darlene... another book for my 'after the tbr dare' shopping spree! Panter-Downes is already on my wishlist (the Persephone short story collection), but now I must add this novel, too.

  5. I didn't really get on with House-Bound ... rather an odd mishmash of a book, didn't think the author had decided what she was doing!
    Agree that one wouldn't want to be married to Stephen! He wouldn't last long in my house. But it never bothers me if I don't like characters, as long as I'm interested in them. (Now you've made me want to go back and read this again.)

  6. I really like the story here. It is a common enough theme how women manage their lives in the absence of their menfolk and how it turns upside down once they return!

  7. Darlene I am in shock. If a book was perfect for you, I would have thought it would be this one!

    I do completely understand your point though. Laura's ineffectiveness and Stephen's unreasonable expectations are rather frustrating. Stephen redeemed himself for me though when the boredom of his job was revealed, and I felt sorry for him, in that he had been clinging to this dream of his home and his wife and his daughter for so long while away at war, and he had come back to find that his dream belonged to a world now gone forever, and his wife and daughter couldn't live up to the dream of them he had created. I just felt that Laura and Stephen had both become very trapped and frustrated and sad and lonely and by the end they had worked out that none of the stuff that made them feel that way really mattered as long as they had each other...and I found that redeemed both of them for their often frustrating characters.

    Oh! I am sad you didn't love this as much as me. I so wanted you to! The writing is sublime though, isn't it?! I can just imagine you squirming with glee at the descriptions of England's rolling hills! Oh, how I miss them! (I don't miss the damp and rain though!)

  8. Also House-Bound is good but if you wanted to shake Laura, you'll want to murder Rose with a large axe. Just warning you!

  9. JoAnn, I picked this one up during my last trip to London. Nicola Beauman mentioned it during the book chat at Persephone and I have huge respect for her. Do give it a try!

    Mystica, You made me laugh...yes, some things are the same no matter where your household is!

    bookssnob, I am committed to giving this book a reread at some point so that I can reflect on the situation. As I rolled along with the story during this first read my frustration was clouding the enjoyment of it. Why did Stephen just stand at the window waiting for Laura instead of looking for her? Little Victoria pointed out some very good reasons why he should!

    Books like this have me desperately wishing we could all be sitting in a tea room to share our thoughts! Thank you so much for sharing yours, I will remember them on my next reading. And I miss England too as I sit here with my longjohns pulled up to my armpits!

  10. mary, The reviews of House-Bound that I have read seem to run about half and half so I would go in with my eyes open.

    Not one to condone violence, I did have a fantasy where Laura lets Stephen have it with a frying pan!

  11. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this, though Laura was a more sympathetic character for me, and Stephen a better husband than Mr. Blackett from my first Virago.